LAFAYETTE — When UL-Lafayette’s Shawn Long made the decision to return for his senior season, he instantly made his team the favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference.

With Sun Belt coaches all available via a media day teleconference, the Advocate asked them for their reaction when they found out Long was returning and what they thought made him stand out on the basketball court.

Spoiler: They weren’t too thrilled about facing him for another year, and they think his game is driven by his versatility.

Appalachian State coach Jim Fox

“I was praying every night that he was going to leave, coach Marlin probably doesn’t want to hear that. He’s a heck of a player. I think his versatility is what makes him so good, that’s what’s going to make him so good at the next level. When you’re as versatile as he is, you can score inside and you can shoot it, I’m just remembering when we played them last year, he was a heck of a passer. I think when you do all those different things, that’s what really makes you attractive to the next level. Because of the way he plays, he’s able to dominate college basketball games.”

Georgia Southern coach Mark Byington

“I was surprised. You go against players and sometimes guys just stick out on the floor, and they’re just a little bit better or make things a little bit easier than everybody else. He was that way last year. I think it’s great for the league, and obviously for Lafayette, the fact that he is coming back. He gives a potential pro player there that brings a lot of potential to the league.”

“What makes him good is his versatility. I think he was coming in to one of our first games last year, and we were sitting there saying he was struggling shooting and he comes out soon thereafter and makes five from the 3-point line. He can score (with his) back to the basket. He gets about as easy as a double-double as anybody. He has size and he’s got very, very good hands. He’s obviously a matchup problem, and there’s no one else in the league like him. Going in to play against him, you’ve got to game plan for him or he can go off and have a big night. What makes him good, is you can do a great job game-planning against him and he can still go off and have a big night.”

Georgia State coach Ron Hunter

“I was fortunate to spend some time with Shawn Long at USA basketball this summer. When you’re able to coach kids that way, you see a different quality about them. He’s a tremendous basketball player, his skill set is unbelievable. I think his work ethic is something that people don’t talk about, he really wants to get better. He’s a very talented player, whether it’s NBA scouts or anybody who asks, he’s an extremely talented player that I think at the next level is going to be great, because he can do one thing and that’s shoot the basketball.”

“A lot of times it’s not about how good you are, it’s about the right fit and it’s about timing. I don’t know if I’m surprised by that. Again, he could’ve come out and made a team this year. I think another year of being coached in college is only going to make him a better player.”

Arkansas State coach John Brady

“His presence, offensively around the goal and behind the arc, and then his presence defensively makes him special. He’s got size and he’s got length, and it’ll be the third year in a row we’ll have a guy go in the first round from the Sun Belt. Conference USA can’t say that and a there’s a lot of other leagues that can’t say that.”

South Alabama coach Matthew Graves

“I think it’s great that Shawn’s coming back to the league. Obviously (Cajuns coach Bob) Marlin, I’m sure, was ecstatic that he gets an instant double-double guy back in the lineup. But I think it’s, overall for the league, I think it’s really good. When you talk about Elfrid Payton a couple years ago, R.J. Hunter last year, now you’ve got Shawn Long, who is another guy who has an opportunity to get picked somewhere, maybe a first or second round draft pick.”

UT-Arlington coach Scott Cross

“Obviously, like (former Georgia State guard) R.J. Hunter, I was pulling for him to make the decision to move on. He’s a very good basketball player, he’s given us fits over the last few years. Any time a great player is coming back you’re not going to be doing backflips, the only one who is doing backflips is coach Marlin. The rest of us, we’ve got to figure out a way to slow him down and prevent him from having 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) or more against us.”

“I wasn’t real, real happy, but hopefully for him, he’ll go on after this year … and get drafted. … I think it’s great for the league, I think he does have the ability and the talent to play at the next level and hopefully he does it on every night except for the nights we play him.”

Texas State coach Danny Kaspar

“Obviously I think most of us were disappointed that he didn’t declare for the draft. Shawn Long is a very good basketball player, he’s got a pro body, he’s got a beautiful outside shot and when we played him last year, what we tried to do against him was ineffective. If you go 1-on-1, he scores a great deal. When you double team him, he found open players. So Shawn is a very skilled player, I do think he’s an NBA player.”

“My understanding from talking to their staff and just watching is Shawn’s biggest battle is against himself. … But I thought last year he did a much better job in conference play of conducting himself in a professional manner than he did in, say, his sophomore year.”

“Obviously, he is, I think, by far our consensus player of the year, the No. 1 talent in the league. Besides him, I think Louisiana brings a lot of other players coming back. But when you add him to the mix, you’ve got to put them at the top of the list as far as preseason favorites are concerned.”

Troy coach Phil Cunningham

“It didn’t surprise me. Remember this now, and a lot of people don’t know this, but I recruited Shawn at Mississippi State. And really, Shawn, he’d tell you the same thing – he really didn’t want to go to Mississippi State. He wanted to stay closer to home, and Mississippi State was a little too far away from him and that’s one of the reasons why he left. But with that in mind, it didn’t surprise me that Shawn would lean more toward the conservative decision to come back and play his senior year.”

“I think it’s a good decision for him. He’ll get stronger, he’s on a really good team, they’ve done a great job with him. I’ve seen improvement with him. From the time I saw him come out of high school to where he is now, they’ve done a great job in helping him mature off the court and on the court.

“He’s just become a better player and I think it’ll help him improve his stock professionally in the future.”